Labor Policy Follies

The confirmation hearings have begun for Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis. As discussed here, Solis was hardly responsive to the serious and important questions asked of her:

Many Republicans oppose the bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would enable unions to add millions of workers and would largely eliminate use of the secret ballot to determine whether workers want a union.

The bill would give employees the right to gain union recognition as soon as a majority signed cards saying they wanted a union.

Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asked Ms. Solis why she supported a bill that would bypass secret ballots when she had, as a California legislator, backed a bill that called for using secret ballots to determine whether a company’s employees favored flextime arrangements.

Ms. Solis declined to discuss the apparent contradiction and her views of the free choice measure, which could face a filibuster in the Senate.

She said her position as nominee “doesn’t, in my opinion, afford me the ability to provide you with an opinion at this time.”

As if the passage of time would do anything to reconcile the vast inconsistencies in Solis’s record concerning secret ballots and the workplace.

The non-answers went further than the Times article indicates. At one point, ranking member Mike Enzi asked Solis whether she would enforce Executive Order 13202, which states that in the award construction contracts, the federal government cannot discriminate on the basis of labor affiliation, i.e., the federal government cannot award a construction contract to a contractor merely because the contractor is union-affiliated (or, for that matter, because the contractor is not union-affiliated). In her response, Solis was–you guessed it!–utterly non-committal. Given how thoroughly she is in the tank for unions, I think it is a safe bet to say that she will work to eviscerate Executive Order 13202. At the very least, under her tenure at the Labor Department, the Obama Administration will likely go a long way towards encouraging and fostering a distinct favoritism for union-affiliated contractors over their non-union cousins.

As indicated in the excerpt above, another major issue facing Solis and the Obama Administration on the labor front will be the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. As Peter Kirsanow points out, enactment of EFCA will encourage massive economic migration from non right-to-work states as your typical employer will vote with his/her feet and leave rather than be “stuck with an EFCA mandatory arbitration award that raises his labor costs above that of his competitor in the adjacent right-to-work state”. This phenomenon, as Kirsanow reminds us, was responsible for the flight from the Rust Belt in the 1970s, which in turn, led to the decline of the cities during that decade. Apparently, today’s pro-union activists miss the good old days of blight.

EFCA is enough of a hot-button issue that it is causing consternation even amongst other Democrats:

A leading Democratic thinker warned Thursday that if Barack Obama makes good on his promise to push the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation opposed by business which would make union organizing easier, it could so “poison the well” between business and labor that it makes it impossible for Democrats to enact the broader progressive goals of universal health care or a full-scale economic recovery program.

“I think you’re right, I think the flashpoint might be the card check thing,” Matt Miller told New York Times columnist David Brooks during a discussion of Miller’s new book which was sponsored by the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “Going for things like the Employee Free Choice Act could poison the well for universal health coverage because it will just lead to a decimating fight on both sides.

This degree of angst is more welcome than is the unbridled enthusiasm shown for EFCA by Solis (at least before she decided to go strategically mute during her confirmation hearings), Obama and the bulk of the Congressional Democratic caucus. But note that the only reason for Matt Miller’s hesitation in supporting EFCA was that he was afraid that a bruising fight on this front would serve to delay health care “reform.”

Miller should have hesitated because EFCA is a disastrously bad policy. That he and the overwhelming majority of Democrats don’t speak out against EFCA’s blatantly bad policy consequences should scare people. Things just don’t look good on the labor policy front.